Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 4 pm I’ll be hosting a special program for the WTJU Rock Marathon. I’ll be featuring music — and the artists that perform it — specifically for movies and TV shows.
Fictional musicians were a staple of the movie industry since the introduction of sound. Al Jolson played Jakie Rabinowitz, a fictionalized version of himself in 1927’s “The Jazz Singer.”
But with the advent of rock and roll, the concept of fictional artists grew and expanded. “Fake Bands, Reel Music” takes a look at how fictional groups really rocked.
When asked to name a mockumentary about music, many people respond, “Spinal Tap.” And rightly so. What made Carl Reiner’s 1984 film such a masterwork is the obsessive attention to detail. The movie features songs by the band from the early 60s, the Summer of Love, and into heavy metal. And each track is stylistically correct, sound exactly like the era its meant to invoke.
Guest, McKean, and Shearer would become part of a repertoire company who collaborated on a number of successful documentaries, such as “For Your Consideration” and “Best in Show.”
One of their films, “A Mighty Wind” (2003) follows three folk music groups as they gather for a tribute concert. The Folksmen (McKean, Guest, and Shearer) are based on the Kingston Trio. Their misguided attempt to go electric couples the Byrd’s jangly guitar with earnestly flawed lyrics.
Also featured are Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as Mick and Mickey, an Ian and Sylvia soundalike.
John C. Reilly starred in 2007’s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” The film is a comedic take on documentaries about Johnny Cash, Roy Oberson, and other early sixties stars. The film’s unusual in that it mixes real celebrities (played by others) with the fictional musicians. Marshall Crenshaw and Van Dyke Parks contributed to the ostensively decade-spanning score.
The Rutles began as a skit created by Eric Idle (Monty Python) and Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Band). This Beatles pastiche, with songs written by Innes, soon took on a life of its own. The group toured and had two UK hits.
Their 1978 TV movie “All You Need is Cash” is a satirical mockumentary of the Beatle’s career. Included in the cast was George Harrison as the interview, Ron Wood, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd. Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and Roger McGough appear as themselves.
Small Screen Mockumentaries
“Documentary Now!” is a half-hour mockumentary series starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. Each episode parodies a famous documentary film, with a keen eye to detail.
“Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” mirrors “History of the Eagles.” Armisen and Hader’s Blue Jean Committee is a perfect amalgam of the Eagles, America, Steely Dan, and the 70s So-Cal sound.
“Final Transmission” was based on the Talking Heads documentary “Stop Making Sense.” Armisen and Hade, with help from Maya Rudolph, nail the New Wave sound of their inspirations.
John Mulaney plays a version of Stephen Sondheim for “Original Cast Album: Co-Op.” It’s based on the documentary of the recordings sessions for “Company.” The episode features several Sondheim-like numbers that all ring true — and explain why “Co-Op” was canceled (according to the story) after one performance.
At the height of the boy band craze, MTV produced “2Gether,” a mockumentary TV movie. The title group was a by-the-numbers boy band, each member selected to fill an archetype; the heartthrob, the shy one, the cute one, the older brother, and the bad boy. 2Gether became a TV series, running on MTV for two seasons. They also released two albums.
All of the actors sang for the recordings.
Their single “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)” charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and in 2000 they opened for Britany Spears on her summer tour.